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Loud As The Rolling Sea presents the stories of Black people's everyday lives, past and present, in Yellow Springs.

Loud As The Rolling Sea: Betty Ford and Phyllis Jackson

Betty Ford and Phyillis Jackson
Both Betty Ford (Left) and Phyillis Jackson (Right) were deeply involved in the community and especially the Central Chapel AME Church.

Saving the stories of elders was the goal. When citizen groups came together in Yellow Springs a dozen years ago, they started an inclusive civil rights oral history project, intended to gather the stories of Blacks and whites who had worked together to ensure the civil rights of all. WYSO got involved early on, and for the next month we'll share edited versions of those oral history interviews. Hear from Betty Ford and Phyllis Jackson. They were cousins born in the 1920s and graduated from Bryant High School. They both had long careers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and were deeply involved in the community and especially the Central Chapel AME Church. These two women helped guide this community oral history project. Phyllis Jackson especially had a passion for black history and genealogy and spent years researching her family's story. They were interviewed by Amy Harper.

Betty Ford: My name is Betty Ford.

Phyllis Jackson: My name is Phyllis Jackson. I was born September 26, 1924, on the corner of Dayton and High Street at 503 Dayton Street.

Betty Ford: I was born in Yellow Springs, where the Antioch Library is now located to 16 with South, not with a south street here in Yellow Springs.

Amy Harper: So that area was not part of the college when you were born?

Betty Ford: No. My grandmother sold it to Antioch.

Amy Harper: Who is your grandmother?

Betty Ford: Tennie Lawson. She was also Phyllis' grandmother.

Phyllis Jackson: And I don't know exactly when that came to Yellow Springs, but our grandmother was born in Spring Valley in 1850. Their family was in Minnesota, and their area of birth was Georgia. And this was in 1850. And I'm sure they were fleeing the South, too, because they were free at that time. And then after the Civil War, they came back to Ohio. My memory, I used to say, was when I was 4-years-old after that, you know, it's foggy. But I do remember going to the nursery school, which I thought was a Black nursery school on Elm Street. And it was operated at that time by two Black women, one being the minister's wife, Harris, and the other being and Yellow Springs woman, Beatrice Carlisle.

Within the past ten years, I was over at the community nursery school and they had some pictures from that nursery school that I had attended on their bulletin board. They identified it as the first community nursery school. I'm not sure why it was called a community nursery school, but at the time that I was attending, I thought it was a black nursery school. It was run by two black women and all of the people that were there were Black. And I don't remember seeing white children there, but they could have been. After that, I went to the Dayton Street School in the first grade and remained there for six years. And then I went to the Bryan School.

Amy Harper: The Dayton Street School, the old village building. That was not segregated, was it?

Phyllis Jackson: No, as far as I know, segregation ended in Yellow Springs in 1887 when Ohio made it a law that all children would be educated publicly. But someone mentioned to me just this week, 'You went to a black school, an elementary school, didn't you?' And I said, 'No, I went to a public school,' and they were surprised there was a Black school here. But I'm not sure when it closed, but it was was not opened in 1900. That's all I know about the Black school.

Amy Harper: So you didn't feel like you were going to a separate place except a nursery school?

Phyllis Jackson: No. As far as my education was concerned, I didn't feel like I was going to a separate place. I knew that I was Black and I knew about discrimination. We had no role models when I was growing up. The only role models I felt like we had were ministers, and those of us who chose not to be a minister didn't really know about other professions. But we soon learned, you know, that there were other professions. I guess you could say that we were limited in our knowledge of possibilities.

Amy Harper: When you say you had no role models, you're talking about people in leadership positions.

Phyllis Jackson: And other successful, you know, fields, whether it be entertainment or or business or medicine or whatever. I just felt that if we had gone to a black school, we would have had role models.

That was Phyllis Jackson and before that, her cousin Betty Ford. In 2014, when they were interviewed by Amy Harper for Yellow Springs Community Oral History Project. Betty Ford passed in 2019 and Phyllis Jackson in 2020.

Kevin McGruder is an Associate Professor of History at Antioch College. McGruder is also the lead producer for a series on WYSO called Loud As The Rolling Sea.